The famous song “Only The Good Die Young” by Billy Joel comes to mind when one hears the name of Selena. No, I am not referring to Justin Bieber’s former girlfriend and Disney star Selena Gomez. I am talking about the beloved and legendary Mexican-American artist, known as La Reina del Tex-Mex (Queen of Tejano Music), Selena Quintanilla. Most non-Latin folk might be unfamiliar with this iconic musician because she was tragically killed at the tender age of 23; right before her crossover English album was released. But for Latinos in the US and Latin America, she was a household name. Her Tex-Mex tunes with influences of pop, cumbias, rancheras and R&B conquered the hearts of millions of fans. This entry details Selena’s life, her wildly successful musical career and the way this singer has managed to remain relevant 20 years after she was unjustly taken from us.
Selena’s life and career has come to be associated with mythical musical folklore due to her incredible and powerful story. Within her short time on Earth, she was able to become one the most influential, celebrated and loved Latin artists of all time. The woman gracefully accomplished this feat in less than 20 years. The girl was a force to be reckoned with – she was a singer, songwriter, spokesperson, actress and fashion designer. Selena is often deemed the Latin Madonna for her bold and avant-garde fashion choices. She accomplished all of her impressive achievements with a humble and loving spirit that was infectious. The tragedy of her story lies in the fact that she only scratched the surface of her potential. She was beyond popular with the Latin audience but was unbeknownst to the rest of the U.S. Her life was snatched away before she had the opportunity to peak. She was murdered a few months before the release of her first English album, which was set to leave a mark in the mainstream American musical sphere. She never had the chance to tour internationally. Or to start a family like she always wanted to. But her short yet extraordinary life still endures due to her lasting cultural influence.
Selena was born in Texas to Mexican-American parents. Her father recognized her talent at a young age and assembled a band with his children making Selena the lead singer at the age of 11. The band was called Selena y Los Dinos and started performing at their parent’s restaurant. Initially, the band had a difficult time as they performed Tex-Mex or Tejano music (folk with polka, jazz and country influences), which at the time, was a male-dominated world. A band of kids with a girl as the singer made no sense to the Mexican-American Texans. As with most musicians, the beginning of their career was rough. But Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., believed so much in the band that he decided to solely focus on his kids’ career. They toured as they grew in popularity but only to make ends meet. Selena’s life was far from normal. She stopped attending school to channel her energies into her artistry. Another issue was that Selena didn’t really speak Spanish. She learned the language through her songs but was unable to hold fluent conversations. However, Selena’s dedication, talent and charisma would prove key in overcoming the challenges at hand and ultimately leading to the success of her band.
Selena was in her late teens when the band's hard work yielded results. They received a record deal to start making professional albums. In this short span of time, 5 years to be exact, she was able to produce smashing hit singles including “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, “La Carcacha”, “Como La Flor” and “Amor Prohibido”, establishing herself as one of the most important musicians with a massive following both in the U.S. and Mexico. This kind of success was unprecedented. Especially since Selena was not only a Mexican-American musician (typically disliked by Mexicans) but also a woman shaking up a male-oriented genre. It's important to point out that despite here flamboyant and daring style , Selena was very much considered a wholesome role model. She was able to convey herself in this light as she exuded her core values throughout her career. She often spoke about the importance of her family. Her family was her #1 priority and fans immediately connected to this sentiment. Most importantly, her fans could relate to Selena on a bicultural level. She was Mexican but also American and understood the struggles of living in two worlds.
From 1990 to 1995 she continued to make herself a household name in the Latin music realm. She sold million of albums, racked up multiple #1 singles, won multiple awards including a Latin Grammy, started a successful fan club, opened fashion boutiques and eloped with her lead guitarist. The girl was relentless.
Selena appointed Yolanda Saldivar, a close and trusted family friend, president of her fan club and manger of her boutiques. There were several complaints made about Saldivar to Selena’s family and they realized Saldivar was embezzling money. The family confronted Saldivar and told her to show evidence proving her innocence or they would turn her in to the police. They told her not to contact Selena but Selena agreed to meet with her on March 31, 1995 to discuss outstanding financial matters. This is when this despicable woman shot Selena and ended her bright light much too early.
It was the Latin community that was most affected by her tragic death and many of them traveled from all over the country to Texas to mourn her loss. They visited her house, boutique, crime scene and funeral to pay their respects. The reaction to her death is comparable to the deaths of John Lennon and John F. Kennedy. George W. Bush, then Texas governor, declared her birthday Selena Day. All major networks in the U.S. interrupted their programming to announce the news. The mainstream American media finally started to take notice of Selena. Within weeks of Selena's tragic death, People Magazine released a commemorative issue to honor the singer. An English + Spanish version were printed. The Spanish version sold out in weeks. To meet demand, the magazine reprinted the issue six times. This phenomenon compelled the magazine to launch a permanent Spanish edition and that is how we have "People en Español." Thanks to Selena!
In 1997, Selena’s biopic film was released. None other than a little someone we know as Jennifer Lopez portrayed Selena. It was this movie that put J.Lo on the map and launched her acting career. When I was little, Selena had already passed but I loved listening and dancing to her music. Her movie was one of my favorites. Every time I watched it, I wanted to be just like her. To dress with the bold outfits, smile at everyone and dance nonstop. It didn’t matter that the movie was in English and I didn’t understand a drop of what was spoken. The performances and the emotions conveyed transcended language barriers. I urge you to watch this movie to get a comprehensive idea of the magnitude of Selena’s stardom and popularity. I have a feeling you may become fans after seeing Jennifer’s portrayal of the late singer. There is a great scene in the movie in which Selena's father, played by Edward James Olmos, describes what it's like to be a Mexican-American in the U.S. I absolutely love and relate to his rant. He explains, "We gotta know about John Wayne AND Pedro Infante, we gotta know about Frank Sinatra AND Agustin Lara, we gotta know about Oprah and Christina. And we gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are, we gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It's exhausting!"
Jennifer Lopez has spoken on the importance of this role saying, “This amazing, beautiful spirit, full of joy and music and so much feeling, was just cut off in the middle of being. It affected me so much and made me realize the importance of what I was doing.” During the filming of the movie, a scene depicting her last concert was filmed. The concert had taken place at the Houston Astrodome and between 30K and 40K fans showed up to recreate this scene. That’s the kind of impact and legacy Selena left behind. She was truly special. So special that to commemorate 20 years of her absence, the Latin Billboard Music Awards organized a tribute earlier this year. They arranged for her band featuring her brother, sister and former husband to come together. Our girl J.Lo was the one to lead the band in paying homage to Selena. Watch the epic performance here.
The positive impact of this bicultural musical hero is more relevant now more than ever as earlier this year Patty Rodriguez, a devoted fan, started an online petition urging MAC Cosmetics to launch a makeup line inspired by Selena. Nearly 40, 000 fans signed the petition and MAC recently announced they are going through with it. Her fans are delighted. Selena’s sister, Suzzete Quintanilla, says this was one of Selena’s dreams, "I'm not going to lie, it brought me to tears because this is something that I know she would be really proud of." I don’t particularly care much for makeup but I am certain when the line hit the shelves, I’ll stock up on some of the goodies to support Selena’s everlasting presence.
Selena represents more than musical success to me. Her life is proof that persistently following our dreams and putting in the work + effort can truly result in magnificent results. The way she effortlessly maneuvered the two very complex cultures in which she existed is admirable. She will forever live on in the hearts of her fans, including myself.
What do you all think of my homegirl Selena? Are you familiar with her music? Which songs do you love but most importantly, which is your favorite outfit?! I encourage you to watch the movie and share your thoughts in the comments :)